Conservatorship & Guardianship: What you need to know
A conservatorship (adult guardianship) is a legal proceeding to appoint a person to manage the personal care and/or the financial affairs of an adult that is physically and/or mentally unable to manage their own decisions about health care or money. The person appointed by the court is known as a “conservator,” and is usually a relative or friend, but can also be a professional paid to perform these duties. A court proceeding for a conservatorship can be avoided by planning ahead and signing durable powers of attorney for money and health care, but sadly, many families neglect to do this.
Limited or General Conservatorships in California
A limited conservatorship makes sense when a person has a disability but can perform many aspects of their care of their own. For example, a person with a mild cognitive disability may be able to perform their own personal care but needs help with making medical decisions or managing money. A general conservatorship is for adults who, due to dementia or physical injury, are unable to care for themselves at all, and all decisions are made by the person appointed.
The person appointed by the court is known as a “conservator,” and is usually a relative or friend, but can also be a professional paid to perform these duties.
Money or Healthcare
A persona appointed to take care of financial matters is referred to as a “conservator of the estate,” and a person charged with medical decisions is a “conservator of the person.” It is possible to have either just one or both appointed, and the job can be done by the same or different persons.
A person with dementia may be in denial about their declining abilities and fight a war to block a conservatorship, wasting huge amounts of money and ultimately block the conservatorship that was truly in their best interests. Relatives and friends have standing to object to the conservatorship itself or any particular conservator, running up expenses and also potentially foiling the attempt to construct the conservatorship.
In addition all the details of the proceeding, are a matter of public record which can be embarrassing for the family. In the absence of the strong wishes of the disabled person, a court is most likely to appoint a distant relative over a friend. This can be heartbreaking when the person might have preferred a domestic partner or close friend.
How are Conservators Compensated?
Conservators can be paid for the services they perform and reimbursed for “reasonable” expenses incurred from the assets of the person they are caring for. Family members usually do not seek compensation, but they are not barred from doing so.
Terminating a Conservatorship
A conservator must fulfill their duties until there is an order from the court terminating their responsibilities. Most conservatorships end due to the death of the conservatee or because a conservatee no longer needs this level of assistance. For a financial conservatorship, it will end when the assets are used up. A conservator can resign if they are no longer able or willing to handle the responsibilities, in which case an alternative conservator will take over the duties.